Assad: Syria may host Russian missiles in its territory

Says Damascus might install "Iskander" batteries in response to US defense shield in Europe.

state-religion survey 224 (photo credit: )
state-religion survey 224
(photo credit: )
Syrian President Bashar Assad has pledged to support Russia in its conflict with Georgia and said that Damascus was ready to consider deploying Russian Iskander missile systems in its territory, in response to the US missile shield in Europe. In an interview with the Russian paper Kommersant, cited by the Interfax News Agency, Assad said regarding the option to install Rusian missiles on Syrian ground "In principle, yes. We have not thought of it yet. No such proposal has been received. In any case, all similar projects must be first studied by military experts. And when everything is decided, we will make an open and public announcement," Assad said in the interview, published on Wednesday, the day before his visit to Russia was scheduled to begin. The Iskander missile (NATO reporting name SS-26 Stone) is a short range, solid fuel propelled, theater quasi-ballistic missile system. The system is intended to use conventional warheads for the engagement of small and area targets, such as hostile fire weapons (missile systems, multiple launch rocket systems, long-range artillery pieces), air and antimissile defence weapons, especially those located in relatively fixed sites, command posts and communications nodes, critical civilian infrastructure facilities and other vital small and area targets. During his visit, Assad will meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Assad's visit to Moscow is primarily meant as an introduction between him and Russia's recently appointed Medvedev, but the visit follows on the heels of Russia's attack on Georgia and a top Russian general's remarks that Israel was one of Georgia's key arms suppliers. Syria was a client state of Russia during the Soviet era and the Syrian military is equipped mostly with Soviet-made weapons. The Qatari-based Al Wattan quoted Syrian sources as saying the meeting would deal with the crisis in Georgia and with the importance of the strategic alliance between Damascus and Moscow, which, the sources said, "has always been a stabilizing factor in the Middle East." Syria kept its strategic ties with Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union, and is still a buyer of Russian arms. Al Wattan analysts assessed that during Assad's present visit, as in the past, Russia and Syria would sign deals for the sale of advanced weapons. The sources quoted by the paper said Syria's interest in the Russian-Georgian conflict grew "following the surprising discoveries of the dangerous role Israel played in transferring weapons to Georgia and the involvement of Israeli Mossad in carrying out terror attacks against Russian citizens in South Ossetia and Abkhazia." Besides the military cooperation, the two countries also have economic interests. Tatneft, one of Russia's 10 top oil producers, is conducting geological surveys in Syria and plans to drill exploratory wells in Syria under a 2005 contract. Despite speculation that this visit could up the ante in the region, from Syria's perspective, bolstering defense ties with Russia is entirely defensive, Dr. Samir A-Taqi, director of the Damascus-based Orient Center for Studies said. "It's mainly repelling dangers more than anything else," he told The Media Line. "The balance of force in the region is broken and a restoration of balance would be positive to allow and convince different belligerents to come to the table. The Syrians are fighting to negotiate," he said. The Media Line News Agency ( contributed to this report. The Jerusalem Post could not independently confirm the veracity of Al Wattan's report.